A Recovery Christmas in the Wilderness

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A Recovery Christmas in the Wilderness

By The Fix staff 12/20/17

At Back2Basics, clients are anticipating an untraditional holiday celebration.

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A group of men rock climbing.

By now, many people who celebrate Christmas are frantically running to the store to stock up on last minute gifts or meals for the Christmas feast. However, at Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Therapy, a Flagstaff, Arizona treatment center that combines wilderness therapy and traditional residential inpatient treatment, clients are preparing for a five-day wilderness adventure over the holiday, where they can unplug, get in touch with nature and reflect on the true meaning of the day.

“We have an itinerary where we’re not totally isolated, but where we can get into a groove and be together,” said Kelly McGrath, the outdoor director at Back2Basics. “We wanted to make it so the holiday will not be about stuff, but about being together, being grateful, honoring our families and talking about that.”


The five-day trip will include hiking and caving expeditions throughout the area southeast of Flagstaff. On Christmas, the group will end up in Bisbee, Arizona, an old mining town where they will sleep in vintage airstream trailers.

“It’s supposed to be really a healing opportunity as well as fun,” McGrath said.

At Back2Basics clients spend half the week on wilderness retreats, so getting out of Flagstaff is nothing new for the young men who are in this form of hybrid treatment. However, McGrath designed the Christmas trip to try to bring extra meaning to a holiday that can often be hard for people in recovery, especially those separated from their families because they are still in rehab.

“When you start to have a clear mind and body you realize the importance of being with family,” McGrath said. “The guys really want that. They long for that.”

In past years when clients have stayed in Flagstaff it has been hard to keep spirits up over the holiday, which is why McGrath recommended taking clients into the wilderness over Christmas this and last year. Along the way she has planned time for fun and a few Christmas surprises, but also plenty of time for reflection about the gifts of sobriety.

“This is a great opportunity for gratitude, and to recognize what you lose when you’re not sober,” she said.

Staff at Back2Basics asked family members to send each client a letter and a small gift, which they will be given on Christmas day. Staff members will present each client with a stocking and they’ll all have time to reflect on how different this first sober Christmas is from previous years.

“A lot of us have childhood memories, but then there’s often a gap where they didn’t care about being with families, when they were so messed up, being home for the holidays was the last thing on their minds,” McGrath said.

McGrath — who has been in recovery for five years — said that the holidays are often an excuse for heavy drinking. She hopes that the young men she works with will recognize that they can redefine holiday traditions in ways that allow them to have fun and honor their recovery.

“The more opportunity that these guys have to be sober and incorporate that into their lives, the better,” she said.

On New Years Eve, Back2Basics clients, along with clients in the rehabilitation’s transitional housing program, will go into downtown Flagstaff to celebrate soberly. Then they will greet 2018 with a hike in Sedona, ushering in a year that will hopefully bring them deeper into recovery, McGrath said.

“I want them to recognize that you can have Christmas and New Year’s and never touch alcohol and drugs, and have a meaningful experience.”

Get more information on Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Therapy at www.back2basicsoutdooradventures.com, or visit them on Facebook.

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